Microsoft Corp blamed “accidental human error” for its Bing search engine failing to display image results for the “Tank Man” query in the United States and elsewhere after users’ concerns about possible censorship around the anniversary of the Heavenly Square raid Had expressed peace.
Users, including in the UK, Germany and Singapore, reported Friday that when searching, Bing returned the message: “There were no results for Panzermann.”
Hours after Microsoft confirmed the problem, a search for “Panzermann” only returned images of tanks elsewhere in the world.
“Panzermann” is often used to describe an unidentified person who is known to stand in front of tanks in Tiananmen Square in China during demonstrations for democracy in June 1989.
Microsoft said the problem “resulted from accidental human error and we are actively working to fix it.
Smaller search engines like DuckDuckGo, which license results from Microsoft, had similar problems searching for “Panzermann” and said they expected a solution soon.
Rival Google showed many results for the famous image when a search for “Panzermann” was performed on Friday.
A significant percentage of Microsoft employees who work on Bing are based in China, including some who work on image recognition software, according to a former employee.
China is known for requiring search engines operating in its jurisdiction to censor results, but these restrictions are seldom applied elsewhere.
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David Greene, director of civil liberties for the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that perfect moderation of content is impossible and “monstrous mistakes are made all the time.”
But he said it could be more sinister: “In the worst case, that was targeted repression at the request of a powerful state.”